Free to Grow - Radical
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Free to Grow

We are not slaves to religion, but sons in a relationship with God. David Platt asks the Lord to give us a passion to be conformed into the image of Christ and a passion to see others transformed for the glory of Christ. In this message on Galatians 4:8–31, David Platt teaches us to live God’s Word when it’s not easy or popular.

1. God, show us how to walk in Your grace.

2. God, help us to trust in Your Word.

3. God, give us great zeal for Your purpose.

Free at Last 

Free to Grow 

Dr. David Platt 

December 28, 2008 

Free to Grow

Galatians 4:8—31 

I invite you to turn with me to Galatians 4. This text that we are going to study this morning together in God’s Word is a fitting conclusion to the end of this year. I was thinking back this week over our year together in the Word, and it’s been a challenging year on a variety of different levels. We’ve been from “Sin in the Camp” to looking at the gospel and core truths of the gospel, and really asking what kind of gospel have we believed? We believed a biblical gospel; what does it really mean to be saved? 

Then, we’ve seen how that gospel affects our marriages and our families and parenting and affects the way we approach issues like divorce or homosexuality. We’ve seen how the gospel affects the way we walk through suffering, and if that wasn’t heavy enough, then we looked at how the gospel confronts us in our materialism and comfortability in this world and looked at what happens to a billion-plus people in the world today who have still not heard the gospel. It’s been a heavy year, and a lot of challenging truths that we have seen. 

So, it’s fitting that we would come to Galatians 4, which, to be honest, the passage we’re going to look at today is a pretty complicated text, much like some of the other texts we’ve looked at in Galatians. However, that’s not the reason I think it’s a fitting conclusion. Why I think this text, in particular, is a fitting conclusion is because we are going to see in the verses we’re about to read a glimpse that we don’t get like this in many other places in the New Testament, into the heart of Paul as a pastor. We’re going to see some affection from him for this church…these churches in Galatia that, well, in Luther’s words said, “just breathes Paul’s tears all over these verses.” 

We’re going to see his longing for them as a people, which is important, because for three chapters, we’ve seen Paul really lay into these folks in a variety of different ways. He’s called them foolish on a couple different occasions. He doesn’t start this letter the way he starts most of his letters, with some commendation and compliments, basically. Instead, he just dives right in and says, “What are you doing?” He really addresses them confrontationally, which Paul’s showing us that there’s a time when the church needs to be confronted in that way, when the church needs to be called out on areas that are not in line with the gospel, areas where the Word of God is not being lived out in the church. 

However, then, what we have here in Galatians 4:8—31, is Paul stepping back in a sense; not stepping back from the truths. We’re going to see he’s reiterating the same truths he’s been talking about, but in his tone, really addressing them with a heart of affection and desire for them to see the truths that he has been putting before them. 

I think it’s fitting, because we have walked through some heavy, sometimes difficult truths over the last year. I hope, I pray, in a way, that it has been faithful to the biblical text. I hope and I pray that I have been faithful to the biblical texts and in bringing those truths to us, even hard truths to us. At the same time, this text gives me an opportunity just to step back in a sense, not from those truths, but to step back and just to say to you as a faith family that God has entrusted to me to pastor, to have the opportunity to say to you how thankful I am to have that opportunity. How thankful I am for you as a people; how thankful I am to be your pastor; how I love you and pray for you and long for you and long for your growth in Christ, and this text gives me an opportunity to do that. 

Three Prayers … 

So, what I want us to do is I want us to read Galatians 4:8—31, and I’ll go ahead and warn you, it’s a complicated text. There are some things…you’re going to read it, and you’re going to think, “All right, what is that talking about?” So, by God’s grace and the leadership of His Spirit, we’re going to hopefully unpack those things. What I want to show you are three prayers that as I was studying this text this week, three prayers that came to the surface from the text that I want us to pray as a faith family, as we come to the end of 2008 and begin to go into the 2009 year; I want us to pray these prayers based on these texts. 

So, let’s read Galatians 4:8—31, then we’re going to dive into those three prayers. In verse 8, Paul writes this: 

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. 

I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? 

Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us so that you may be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. 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! 

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. 

These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: “Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” 

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. 

Father, we need your Spirit to help us to understand this Word. We need your Spirit to open our eyes and our hearts, to see how this Word that you spoke a couple of thousand years ago to these churches affects the way we live our lives in this church today. God, we pray that you would show the eternal life-changing truths that are found here to our eyes and our minds and our hearts in this room, and you would do it by your Spirit, and you would do it in a way that changes our lives, some for the first time for all of eternity this morning, and for your church today, that you would conform us more to the image of Christ. We pray that you would do this work by your grace in our lives this morning, in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

I want to show you, and you might even circle it, three different places in the verses we just read where Paul…we see this affection from Paul. He mentions…calls them “brothers” three different times. Like in verse 12, he says, “I plead with you, brothers…” and you might circle it there. Then, you get down to verse 28, it says the same thing: “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise…” Then, you get down to verse 31, last verse. He says, “Therefore, brothers…” You might circle it there. You might also circle verse 19. He doesn’t say brothers, but he says, “My dear children…” 

What I want to point out there is the fact that this is folks, who just one chapter earlier, Paul started by saying, “You’re foolish; foolish Galatians, foolish Galatians.” Now, he’s speaking to them, “Brothers…” “Brothers…” “My dear children…” and you see this affectionate tone from Paul. 

Galatians 4:8–31 Asks God to show us how to walk in His grace. 

Now, based on what he’s saying there, I want to put these three prayers before us from this text for us to pray as a faith family as we close out this year and go to the next year. First prayer is this: God, show us how to walk in your grace. God, show us how to walk in your grace. Now, in many senses, what we’ve got here in Galatians 4:8—31 is really not new material. It’s not new information that Paul is bringing to the table, that he hasn’t brought to the table to this point. In fact, chapters three and four build on chapters one and two, and chapters three and four are kind of a group together, and Paul really is putting a period on what he’s already been developing that we’ve been looking at over the last few weeks. 

So, there’s not a lot of new information here. In fact, when he starts, there in verse eight, he says, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.” That’s what we’ve been talking about for two or three weeks now, how Paul, at the end of chapter three, talks about how we are slaves imprisoned by the law, slaves to the law. You get to Galatians 4, what we talked about last week is how God takes us from slavery to sonship; we’re adopted as his sons. So, the picture is you were slaves. That’s what Paul has said over and over and over again. When you get to the end of this chapter, verses 21 to 31, he brings in an illustration from the Old Testament, an analogy. It’s about Hagar and Sarah. We don’t have time to turn there, but you might write this down: Genesis 16 and 17 is what he’s referring to. What happened back in Genesis 16 is you had Abraham and Sarah together. The only problem was they were not being…they were not very successful in having children. As a result, they began to worry that God was not going to carry on their line, and so Sarah goes to Abraham and said, “Listen, I’m not going to be able to give you children, apparently, so take Hagar,” who’s a servant in Abraham’s household, “and you have a child with Hagar.” It’s one of those not-so-pretty parts of the Old Testament where you’ve got Abraham and Hagar together, and they have a child. That child’s name is Ishmael. 

So, what you’ve got is a slave woman, is what Paul refers to her as…Hagar…and a slave child, Ishmael, in that picture in Genesis 16. So, Abraham is thinking, “Okay, God’s going to bless my line through this child,” through Ishmael. However, then you get to Genesis 17 and God says, “No, I’m going to give you a child with Sarah, a child of promise, and that’s going to be Isaac that’s going to come on the scene. Trust me. Yes, I know you’re 100 years old and Sarah is not far behind you, but you’re going to have a child. Contrary to everything that you would imagine, you’re going to have a child that’s going to carry on this line.” That’s a promise that God gives and a promise that God comes through on later on in Genesis. 

So, Paul takes that picture as an illustration and says, “Okay, what you’ve got is a slave woman and a free woman: Hagar and Sarah. You’ve got a child of slavery in Ishmael and a child of freedom from a promise in Isaac.” He said, “These are two pictures of two covenants. You’ve got old covenant, where we were slaves to the law, and you’ve got new covenant, where we’re children of promise.” Slavery to sonship, from law to promise, and it’s all that we’ve talked about in Galatians 3 and 4 up to this point, now encapsulated. 

How we got here … 

Now, what I want to do is I want us to, almost in a sense, recap what we’ve already seen, and see how Paul’s bringing this to light through three different lenses: how we got here, who we are, and where we’re going. How we got here, first of all. What Paul was doing, in bringing this picture of slavery in the Old Testament law back into the forefront, is he’s reminding the churches in Galatians and the Christians there, “We have not been obedient to the law. We’ve not been obedient to the law. We’re not saved because we’re obedient to the law.” 

Now, remember there were Judaizers in Galatia that were saying, “You want to be saved? You want to be right before God? Do these things.” Paul is saying over and over again, “No, no, no, no, no. That’s not how we’re saved. We’re not made right before God because we do good things, because we check off the right boxes, because we’re obedient to the law. The law enslaves us. The law reveals our need for God’s grace through faith. The law puts us in prison, so to speak.” Paul says at the end of Galatians 3, “We’ve not been obedient to the law. That’s not how we’re saved.” 

So, how are we saved, then? Well, we’ve been awakened by the Spirit, and this is the key phrase in this illustration at the very end of the chapter. Look at verse 29, when Paul is talking about Ishmael and Isaac, and he says, “At that time the son born in the ordinary way…” which is Ishmael, “…born in the ordinary way…” meaning just like you would imagine, okay? Something is going on with Sarah. She’s not able to have children, so Abraham and Hagar, you all have a child together. This is what would be most natural for you all to do since apparently this isn’t happening over here. So, that “son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit.” Now, that’s referring to Isaac. This is natural over here, what happened with Ishmael. What happened with Isaac was supernatural, in the sense that there was no other explanation for how Sarah and Abraham at their age could have a child. This was a promise from God: Isaac born by the power of the Spirit. 

Now, Paul’s using this as an illustration. You can go all the way back to the beginning of Galatians 3, it’s the same thing he said there when he said, “Do we receive the Spirit by observing the law or by faith?” We have the Spirit. The Spirit of God has done something supernatural in our lives. 

Who we are … 

Now, follow with me; don’t get lost here. It’s going to come back around. How did we get here? We have not been obedient to the law. Instead, we’ve been awakened by the Spirit. Now, that has huge ramifications for who we are now. Because we’ve been awakened by the Spirit, who we are now is we are not slaves to religion. We’ve not been obedient to the law; we’ve been awakened by the Spirit, and because we’ve been awakened by the Spirit, we’re not slaves to religion

This is what Paul was saying over and over and over again here in Galatians 3 and 4. “You’re not slaves anymore. You’re not slaves anymore. You’re free.” He says at the end of Galatians 4 there, he says, “Get rid of the slave woman and her son. You are free. Children of freedom, not slaves to the law. Stop living like you’re slaves of the law. You’re free.” 

I want you to see what Paul does in Galatians 4:8—10 to describe this. Now, you’ve got to follow here, and I promise if you hang with me through these verses…eight, nine, and ten…you’re going to see this text just come to life. Look at verse 8. Look at what Paul says. He says, “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!” 

Now, verse by verse, let’s go through this progression. Verse 8, Paul says, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slave to those who by nature are not gods.” Now remember, these Christians in Galatia, before they came to Christ, were they Jews or Gentiles, for the most part? They were Gentiles. These were not Jewish people; they were Gentiles who heard the gospel. 

So, what they were, they were Gentiles following pagan religions. They weren’t following Jewish rules or Jewish customs, Jewish law. They were following pagan religions, pagan idolatry. Paul says, “You were freed from that. You were freed from your pagan religion and pagan idolatry into Christ. You were set free, you were saved by grace through faith in Christ,” what he’s talked about. You’re set free. “You were slaves to by those who by nature are not gods.” In other words, “You were slaves to foreign gods,” or you could even put demons in there, based on kind of the picture that Paul’s painting here through the principles of this world. The picture is, “You were worshipping false gods, participating in false religion. You were slaves to that, and you were set free.” 

So, that’s what he says in verse 8. Verse 9, he says, “But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it you’re turning back to those weak and miserable principles?” So, he says, “Now you’re going back into what you came out of.” Now, here’s where it gets really interesting. Look in verse 10. What are they doing? He says, “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!” What were they doing? Had they gone back to their pagan religion and pagan idolatry they had been involved in before? No, they hadn’t. Instead, what they were doing was they were observing Jewish holy days like the Sabbath and festivals and years, like the Year of Jubilee and celebrations. They were doing these things, these Jewish customs and rules the Old Testament talked about. They were prescribed there. That’s what they were doing. 

Now, here’s what is just astonishing in this passage. Do you realize what Paul has just done? He has just equated their following Old Testament rules and customs with the pagan religions that they’ve been delivered out of. He’s saying that, “You’re doing those things in order to make yourself right before God or earn favor before God. It’s the same as you were doing when you were following all these pagan religions. You’re no different from what you were doing before, except now you have a Jewish name on it.” 

Let me bring this into contemporary language. It would be like Paul saying to us this morning, “You go to church, and you sing songs, and you pray your prayers, and you study your book, and you go through all of these motions thinking that, by doing these things, you have favor before God. By doing these things, you’re making yourselves right before God.” Paul would say to us, “You are no different than the Muslims around the world who are worshiping in mosques this week. No difference. They’re checking off their boxes to try to make themselves right before God, and you’re checking off your boxes trying to make yourself right before God, and there’s no difference.” 

You say, “Well, I pray.” Big deal. Muslims pray. Probably more times a day than most of us. You say, “Well, I worship. I go to worship.” Big deal. Hindus worship. They worship all day long. You say, “Well, I study. I read the Bible.” So do Jehovah’s Witnesses. They know it better than most of us in this room. You say, “Well, I go on mission trips.” So do Mormons. Scores of them commit years of their lives to go on mission trips. Not for a week; for a couple of years. What Paul is saying here is that, as long as your Christianity consists of routine and ritual that you follow week in and week out, then you are no different than all the other pagan religions in the world, and just like their religions condemned them, your religion condemns you. 

This is a strong picture. The reality is as long as us following the rules that we’ve set up and prescribed in Christianity, as long as we think that by doing these things we’re making ourselves right before God and saving our skin for eternity, then we are condemned just like every other religion in the world. Paul is saying, “We are not slaves to religion anymore. We’re not slaves to religion. We are sons in a relationship with God.” This changes everything. You don’t check off the box on Sunday morning and then…and pray and study the Bible. “Okay, I’ve checked off these boxes.” No, this is not Christianity. If that’s what Christianity is, then Christianity is no different than every other pagan religion in the world. 

We’re not slaves to religion who are doing things in order to try to make ourselves right before God. We are sons who have been made right with God and who now walk in a relationship with Him. This is a radically different view of religion. It changes everything about our lives. Think about it. How deceptive, how subtly deceptive and dangerous this is. What if Satan’s strategy in the 1st century and the 21st century…what if his strategy may involve in your life not necessarily tempting you to do wrong things or horrible things. What if his strategy actually involves tempting you to do right things week in and week out? Going to church and reading your Bible and praying and teaching a small group, maybe even preaching. Doing right things, but doing them all with the wrong spirit, thinking about, by doing those things, you are earning favor before God. I’m convinced this is one of Satan’s most prevalent strategies in our culture here in Birmingham, Alabama. To think that by checking these boxes and going through these routines and rituals that we do, we are no different than Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or anybody else around the world. Paul says, “You know God,” verse 9. Then I love this: he pauses, he says, “Or rather, are known by God.” That is a great phrase. You are known by God. 

You know, there are a lot of people I think it’d be kind of cool if they knew who I was. I think it’d be cool if the president knew me. Wouldn’t that be cool, if the president knew you? “Oh, yeah, David? I know him.” There’s other people, heroes of mine, even in faith, even in Christianity. There’s guys who I think it’d be cool if they knew who I was. I’m guessing there’s probably people in your life you think it’d be kind of cool if they knew who I was. I remember, first day I saw Heather in a green dress. I was thinking, “I wouldn’t mind if she knew who I was.” To be known by somebody, recognized by somebody. 

Ladies and gentlemen, you are known by God. The word here is not just intellectual acknowledgement. It’s not like the president, “Well, yeah, I’ve heard of David Platt.” Not that he has, but if he had, knew me in that way. However, God doesn’t just know, “Oh, yeah, I know who you are. Yeah, I know a little bit about you.” He knows you intimately. That’s the language here. He knows you intimately. Sons in a relationship with God. Doesn’t get any more beautiful than this. 

I think about over the last week and a half, Heather and I have celebrated our ninth anniversary, and I’m so thankful for my wife, and I am so thankful for the relationship and the intimacy that I share with her and the joy that I share in relationship with her. Let me assure you, my relationship with her does not consist of check-off boxes. Now, sure, she’ll make me a to-do list every once in a while that needs to be checked off. Okay, that’s understood, but when I come home, I don’t think, “Okay, kiss her: check. Okay, offer to help with the kids: check. Offer to serve in this way: check. Have I done everything I’m supposed to do? Okay. It’s anniversary time, I’ve got to do something. Check, check. What can I do?” 

No. No. Similarly, I don’t come home, and I don’t think, “Well, we were married nine years ago so that’s pretty much sealed, so I don’t really have to worry about working in a relationship with her now. So, I’ll just do whatever I want when I come home.” Absolutely not! No, I come home and I give her a kiss and I offer to help with the kids and serve, because I love her and I want to bless her and want to help her and want to serve her. I don’t say, “Well, we just did this nine years ago, so I don’t need to do anything else.” It’s work. Marriage is work…and get an “Amen” to that? Don’t “Amen” too loudly, husbands. “Amen.” No, no, don’t do that. It is work. It is work. 

Isn’t this the picture in a much, much, much greater way of a relationship with God? The last thing we would ever want to do is say, “Well, I prayed this prayer a while ago, so I’m okay. I don’t even have to worry about working in a relationship with God.” Absolutely not! It’s blasphemy. Similarly, we would never say, “Well, I’ve got to figure out things to check off in order to please God, in order to make myself right before God and be in good standing with God.” No, absolutely not! That’s blasphemy, too. Leave them both behind and walk in a loving relationship with God. An intimacy with God, with the God you know and who knows you. We are no longer slaves to religion, held captive to religious routine and rituals that would try to dominate the religious landscape, especially in the Southern United States. No, we are sons in a relationship with God, who walk with Him and enjoy Him and glorify Him and experience Him on a daily basis. “This is Christianity,” Paul says. “Don’t go back. You’re free. Don’t go back to slaves to religion. You’re sons in a relationship with God.” That affects where we’re going. It affects where we’re going. He brings in, at the end of this illustration here in Galatians 4:21—31 with Hagar and Sarah, he says in verse 25 now, “Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.” To the earthly ways…religion and this. 

Where we’re going … 

Then, he says in verse 26, “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” Where are we going? Where have we come from? We’re not obedient to the law; we’re awakened by the Spirit. As a result, we’re not slaves to religion. We’re sons in relationship with God. Where are we going? We are not living for earthly pleasure. We’re not living for the city on earth. We’re not living for stuff here. We’re living for a heavenly home. Not living for earthly pleasure; living for a heavenly home. We’re free people. 

This is where we connect this text with what we studied all Fall with talking about laying up treasures, not on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but treasures in heaven, where moth and rust don’t destroy and where thieves don’t break in and steal. Why do we let go and leave behind and get rid of stuff here? Because we want treasure in heaven; we’re living for treasure in heaven, not comforts here, but eternal satisfaction in heaven. 

That’s what we’re living for because we’re free. Free people. People who are free from bondage to this world. Free people are radical people. Free people don’t live like the rest of the world lives. Free people don’t indulge in what everybody else in the world indulges in. We’re free. Free to live for a Father who’s preparing us an eternal home. Free to stop caring about having all the stuff here, because we have a home in heaven. We’re living for that which is eternal, not which is temporary. That’s the picture here. 

So, Paul’s saying all throughout this picture in Galatians, and what I want us to pray as a faith family, we know…I hope we know…I hope we know that we are saved by grace. That we have been saved by grace. What I pray, and I want us to pray together, that God would help us show us what it means, not just to be saved by grace in the past, but to walk in grace in the present and to enjoy grace and a life of radical freedom and radical grace. This is the picture. God, show us how to walk in your grace. 

Galatians 4:8–31 asks God to help us to trust in His Word. 

God, show us how to walk in your grace, and second, God, help us to trust in your Word. Help us to trust in your Word. What we’ve done is we’ve looked at verses 8 through 11 and verses 21 through 31 kind of as bookends. Let’s dive in in the middle, then, the meat between the sandwiches, so to speak, verses 12 through 20, particularly verses 12 through 16. 

“I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you.” Now, what Paul’s saying there, just a little background, when Paul came to these Gentiles and shared the gospel with them, did Paul come touting all of his Jewish customs and rules and rituals? No. It’s what he says later, points in the New Testament, he said, “I became like you in order to lead you to Christ. I didn’t bring all these encumbrances in that would keep you from coming to Christ. I became like you. I left those things behind for your sake.” Paul’s saying, “Now, you’re going back to those things that I left behind deliberately, and you’re thinking those things are going to get you to God? No.” Paul says, “I brought the gospel to you.” This is contextualization. This is saying, “How can we take the gospel, not in any way compromise the gospel, but remove encumbrances, cultural encumbrances that would keep the pure gospel from being proclaimed, being shown, and being received?” As Paul says, “I became like you.” 

Then, he says, “You have done me no wrong.” Verse 13, “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you.” Scholars debate exactly what Paul’s illness was that he was referring to here. Some think it was malaria, some think it was some sort of problem with his eyes, his eyesight, based on the phrase that’s used later on in verse 15 about tearing out your eyes and giving them to me. Don’t know if that’s hyperbolic language or if that’s, literally, there was something wrong with his eyes. 

However, we do know whatever Paul had was in some sense repulsive. He said, “My illness was a trial to you, and you did not treat me with contempt or scorn.” This wasn’t a common cold. There was something in Paul, going on in Paul’s life, his body, that was a trial to them, a burden, in a sense, to them, but they welcomed him like an angel of God, as if he were Christ Jesus himself, with such joy. 

However, then something happened. Something happened, and now they were rejecting Paul. Now, they were turning their backs on Paul. Now, they were looking…you look in verse 16, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” They were looking at Paul as an enemy. What had happened here? Paul said, “We were together; now, you’re looking at me like I’m your enemy and you’re turning.”, and he’s perplexed; he’s confused. I think at the core, he’s heartbroken. So, why…where’s this prayer? “Okay, God, help us to trust in your Word.” Where does that come from? 

Help us to live when it’s not easy. 

Now, here’s where I want to show this to you. What I mean by that is twofold. First, God help us to trust your Word; help us to live it when it’s not easy. Help us to live it when it’s not easy. What Paul is asking the Galatians to do is not an easy thing, to leave behind these Jewish rules and customs that teachers in the church, apparently, are saying you need to do in order to be saved. This would cause them to be ostracized by those teachers. It would cause them to break the mold, so to speak; to step out. It was what Paul had experienced. 

You think about Paul and the difficulties he’d gone through, first, in even converting to Christianity from Judaism. Here he was amidst the Jewish ruling establishment, and he converts to Christianity, and all of a sudden he’s ostracized by all these Jews who are saying, “Well, he’s become a part of a cult.” Lost all his friends at that point, so to speak. Now, he’s a part of the church, and he starts reaching out to Gentiles with the gospel and the Jewish Christians in the church start ostracizing him then, saying, “What are you doing? Why are you reaching out to them?” 

So, now he’s stepped out again. It’s not easy for Paul to have left behind those Jewish rules and customs and then to have been willing to not participate in those in order to lead Gentiles to Christ. The further Paul stepped out in order to make the gospel known, the more it cost him, the more he was persecuted. 

In fact, that’s what he’s talking about there in verse 29 when he talks about Ishmael persecuted Isaac. It’s the same picture. What’s really interesting, though…don’t miss this…what’s really interesting is who is doing the persecuting. You look in the history of God’s people, even in the Old Testament, the prophets…were they persecuted? Yes. Who persecuted them? Was it the pagan Gentile nations? No, it was the Jewish people; it was the people of God who were persecuting the prophets. Jesus, persecuted by whom? Pharisees…the religious establishment, leaders of that day who instigated his death at the hands of the Romans. Paul, persecuted, kicked out of synagogues; persecuted by the very Judaizers who he is confronting here in Galatians. 

All throughout the history of God’s people it’s not been easy to follow God by grace through faith in Christ. Not only because of persecution or obstacles in the pagan world, but maybe even more so because of obstacles and persecution that comes from the religious world. Paul’s talking to folks who, if they believe what he says and put into practice what he is saying, will face opposition from the religious world around them, and here’s the picture I want us to see. 

I cannot help but to think for us, as a faith family and for any follower of Christ in this room, if you or I or we together begin to take this Word at face value, begin to believe it, and begin to obey it with radical abandonment, our greatest challenges may not come from outside, but from inside. So, the question is, are we going to live it even when it’s not easy? Are we going to live out this book even when people call you or me a fanatic? Even when we are ostracized by a religious community, by people who once thought were friends now looking at us as an enemy? Not trying to start some uprising here, but the picture is if we take this Word and by grace through faith in Christ begin to obey it, not just the parts that we like or the parts that are most appropriate for our culture, but really obey this Word, it will cost us. “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be…” what? “…persecuted.” Not that you go seeking after it; you seek after Christ, and you obey Christ, and it will come, and it will come from the religious world around you. Will we live this even when it’s not easy? 

Galatians 4:8–31 helps us to hear when it’s not popular. 

God, help us to live it when it’s not easy, and God, help us to hear it when it’s not popular. Verse 16, Paul says, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Paul says, “I’ve said some hard things. I bring to light some hard truths, but I’m not doing it because I hate you; I’m doing this because I love you.” Paul says, “Now, those Judaizers, seems like they love you. They’re sharing these truths with you, saying, ‘Do these things,’ and it seems better to you to do those things. The reality is they do not love you. By following their lead and following their rules, you will go on a road that leads to an eternal hell. You don’t want to go there. They don’t love you.” Paul says, “I love you and that’s why I’m telling you the truth. I’m not your enemy.” 

As I was studying this text this week I was reminded…I was reminded as a preacher and as a teacher of the Word…and I thought about teachers of the Word represented all across this room…we need to be reminded of this. People will love preachers and teachers as long as those preachers and teachers tell the people what they want to hear. You will be loved, you will be given accolades, you will draw the crowds. Give them what they want to hear. Make sure to say whatever keeps yourself in their good opinions. That’s where every teacher and preacher of the Word, including myself, has to come face-to-face with the question, “Do we want to be popular or do we want to be faithful?” 

That is an extremely important question in the church today. It’s an important question in this room for everyone who handles this Word. It’s certainly an important question for me as a pastor. I cannot overemphasize this…emphasize it enough. I want to be faithful to this Word. I want to be faithful to this Word more than I want to please your opinion of me, and I want you to call me out at any point where I am not faithful to this Word. As the church, you have the responsibility to do that, but as long as what we’re talking about, even when it’s tough truths…even tough truths like we’ve looked at over this last year, even if there begins to rise, “He’s an enemy,” I want us to pray that God would help us to hear it even when it’s not popular; to receive it even when it exposes blind spots and weaknesses in our lives or in the church or in my life. Even when it brings out things that I don’t want to hear or you don’t want to hear, let’s hear it and let’s receive it, even when it’s not popular. God, give me and other teachers around this room grace to preach it, even when it’s not popular, teach it even when it’s not popular, and God give us grace as a people not to resist it but to welcome it and receive it. Even when it does hurt, even when it is confrontational, even when it confronts weak spots or blind spots in our lives, God, help us to receive it by your grace. Help us to receive it and not to resist it. 

This is the picture of why I want us to pray, “God, help us to trust in your Word. Help us to live it when it’s not easy, and help us to hear it when it’s not popular. God, show us how to walk in your grace, and God, help us to trust in your Word.” 

Galatians 4:8–31 asks God to give us great zeal for His purpose. 

Third prayer: God, give us great zeal for your purpose. God, give us great zeal for your purpose. Here’s where we come to this last paragraph, so to speak, verses 17—20: “Those people are zealous to win you over…” talking about the Judaizers, “…but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous,” verse 18 says, “provided the purpose is good…” Did you catch that? Zeal is good when it’s accompanied by a purpose that’s good. 

This is why Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards is one of my favorite books, because Edwards, in the middle of great awakening and revival, talks about zeal and affection for Christ. There were people over here that were engrossed in all kinds of emotionalism, and they’d left truth behind, and people over here clinging to the truth but had no emotion, no affection. Edwards said, “Spirit and truth, emotion and truth, they go together. Affection and truth, they go together. You can’t have one without the other.” So, have zeal. Don’t sit back, cold, unmoved, unfeeling. There should be zeal and passion and fire, not that it’s expressed in the same way in every one of our lives, but if we are followers of Christ there should be great affection for Christ in us…great affection. Great feeling, emotion, desire, for Christ, but it’s zeal with a good purpose. 

So what’s the purpose? What do we need to be zealous for? Listen to what Paul says, verse 19; one of my favorite verses in this passage that we’re studying. “My dear children…” you hear this affection? “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth…” Paul says, “What’s an image I can use? I’m going to…I’m like a mother wanting to give birth to a child.” “…in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” That’s the purpose. 

Galatians 4:8–31 wants a passion to be conformed into the image of Christ. 

For Christ to be formed in you. God, give us great zeal for your purpose. Give us a passion to be conformed into the image of Christ. Give us a passion to be conformed into the image of Christ. Formed in Christ, to be shaped from the inside out; to be molded from the inside out. Christ developed in you from the inside out. It’s the same picture on Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live; Christ lives in me.” 2 Corinthians 4:10, “The life of Jesus will be manifested in your bodies that Christ would be formed in you.”

This is the kind of freedoms Paul was talking about. Freedom comes when Christ captivates your heart and begins to affect the way you think and the way you feel and the way you act and the way you move and the way you relate to people around you. This is freedom. Christ being formed in you, and Paul says this is the purpose: to be conformed into the image of Christ. 

It goes exactly what our last prayer was…help us to trust in your Word, because this is the work the Word does. This is why we study the Word like we do, week in and week out, because this Word that we are studying alone has the power from the Spirit of God to conform our hearts and our minds into the image of Christ. That’s why we study this book. That’s why we study it like we do week in and week out, because we know that when this book, by the power of the Spirit, comes alive in our hearts and our minds, He will make us into the image of Christ. There’s no other book that does that. That’s why we don’t stand up and give opinions, give thoughts. Dave’s tips on how to have a better 2009. No good for you. 

Word, good for conforming you into the image of Christ in 2009, so we’re going to stick with that. 

This is where…this is where, as I was studying this this week, I was so blessed. I was so blessed just to think about you and this faith family and the people that are sitting in front of me now. You are so encouraging to me. Words cannot describe the joy…and joy just is not an adequate word…the joy that I experience as Christ is being formed in you, in us. When I hear you tell me…one couple, about…one couple told me about this last year, their workplace, having the opportunity to see 16 of their coworkers come to faith in Christ. Christ forming you, being multiplied through you. That is joy. 

To hear one couple in this faith family who was walking through divorce and gone through, papers were sitting in front of the judge, waiting to be signed and everything finalized. The couple, by the power of the gospel, says, “No, we need to make this thing work. We can make this thing work.” So, they send a message to the judge and say, “If you could just throw those papers in the garbage, we’re going to make this thing work.” That’s good. 

When I hear you share about how you’re experiencing victory over this sin or that struggle, to have an opportunity on Christmas Eve to stand here and just hug a brother who this time last year was addicted to drugs and all sorts of other things, and this last year, he’s come to faith in Christ and baptized, being reconciled to his family, and to say it’s his first good Christmas. That’s joy. 

God give us the passion to be conformed into the image of Christ. That’s just the heart of Paul, like, it makes sense, because there’s really not many other greater joys than seeing people conform to the image of Christ, and this is where it gets really good. I want you to think about it with me. What happens when the heart that we see in Paul…oh, how I want that heart to be in me, and I need to be conformed in the image of Christ for that heart to be in me. I want…but what happens when that heart is not just in a pastor or is in a group of elders? What happens when this heart is in a people? 

Give us a passion to see others transformed for the glory of Christ. 

We have a passion to be conformed in the image of Christ, but we also have a passion to see others transformed for the glory of Christ. What happens when we begin to look at each other in a faith family, and we begin to think, “I live for you. I live for you. I want you to be conformed in the image of Christ, just like a mother wanting to give birth to a child, and the pains, the desires. I’ll go through whatever. I want you to be transformed into the image of Christ for the glory of Christ. I want to teach you the Word. I want to…” What happens when every small group leader, every member of this church, is looking at each other and we’re saying, “I want to model Christ for you. I want to encourage you; I want to build you up; I want to serve you; I want to love you; I want to edify you. I want to do everything I can in your life to see Christ’s transforming power at work in your life. I want to see you growing into the image of Christ, and I need you to long for me to be growing into the image of Christ.” What happens…this is New Testament community. This is what the church is about. If we would long for each other like that. 

So, let’s pray. Let’s pray that God would give us a zeal for that. Let’s pray that we would not be anonymous worshippers in a big room on Sunday morning. Let’s pray that in small groups, and when you’re sitting next to each other in a gathering like this, we would look at each other, and we would think, “I want to live so that that person is transformed, not into my image, not in the image that I think is best for them; transformed into the image of Christ, for the glory of Christ.” That’s where the church is intended to be. So, God, show us how to walk in your grace, God, help us to trust in your Word, and God, give us zeal. Give us passion for this purpose. His grace is good. His grace is really good. 

Let’s tell God His grace is enough. We don’t want to add to it; we don’t want to be slaves to religion. We are your people. We are sons, daughters, we’re children in relationship with you. We believe your promise and we trust in you. We want to walk with you, and you may be here this morning; you may not be a Christian. You may not be a part of the church, so to speak. If you have never come to faith in Christ, I want you to know this promise: this grace that we’ve been talking about this morning, is for you. 

It’s for you to receive, to trust. Not for you to get a list of things to do to say, “Okay, do this, do this, do this, do this, and then, you can be a Christian.” Absolutely not. It’s for you in your heart this morning to say, “I trust in Him.” Maybe…maybe even for people here who have been slaves to religion for 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years, and maybe the Spirit of God in your heart this morning has said to you or is saying to you, “You’re no different than the Muslims and the Hindus and the Buddhists and everyone else who’s following a check-off list to try to make themselves right before God.” 

He’s calling you to trust in Him, to make you right before Him, not based on anything you have done but based on the righteousness of Christ in heaven and His sacrifice on the cross for your sins. Whether you’re a child or a man or woman, let’s say this morning, “I’m going to trust in Him for the first time. I’ll trust in His grace.” 

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

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